About this story: The JAM [Journalism Arts Multimedia] Workshop was offered during the Spring 2014 term at the University of Oregon’s School Of Journalism and Communication. Teams of students created profiles of local artists — a guitar builder, a ballerina, a belly dancer, a sculptor, a painter, a graffiti artist, a jazz saxophonist, the band Mood Area 52, and more. Each profile entails written, photo, audio, and video elements.
Video: Devin Ream, Silas Valentino, Alexsis Winterhalter
Story: Silas Valentino
He’s the kind of man who can make wearing a fedora look kind of cool. His record collection is bookended by two old typewriters, and a random album selection could turn up Dean Martin, Nazareth, or The Descendents. A black and white photograph of Tom Waits decorates the wall leading up the stairs in his wooden, Whiteaker abode. Out back on the side of his tool shed dangle a collection of shovelheads mounted like big-game trophies — mementos to the days he worked as a landscaper to pay off his school loans. His current life is split in two, with one half teaching 8th graders and the other half leading the tango/country/Americana/whatever-the-hell-they-please band Mood Area 52. To his students he’s Mr. Roderick, but to his band mates he’s Michael.
Roderick, cellist Amy Danziger, guitarist Billy Barnett, bassist Jeremiah Harris, and drummer Tony Figoli make up Mood Area 52, and over the past 16 years they’ve released six albums and have contributed to multiple side projects.
What started as a busking routine for Michael (who plays accordion, guitar, trumpet, and ukulele) has grown into a sustainable band. They occupy a comfortable slot in the Eugene music community, and even though arena tours and fame aren’t on their list of goals, they’re more than content with the band they’ve forged together.
“We’re not trying to make it, and I just think that it gets in the way,” Tony Figoli says. “In this band, we’re all older, and we just like having fun. It’s good music, I get to hang out with my friends, and people still come to see us play.”
On one Monday night they meet for band practice just as the sun begins to creep west. One by one the musicians arrive at Roderick’s home. Before they let the music do the talking, the five friends mingle.
“You’re going to throw out your back,” worries Danziger as she sees Roderick moving around the furniture.
“That’s okay,” he responds. “I only throw out my back when I’m lifting socks.”
As they begin to tune their instruments, Barnett mentions “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Harris comes in with the bass riff to Iron Butterfly’s gift to man, and soon Figoli has lent a drum rhythm. They all laugh together, and then after some good-natured foolishness they begin to play, to get serious, and to tighten the bolts.
After several spirited run-throughs, Mood Area 52 takes a break, and Michael Roderick discusses how the band fits into his life. “It’s 50 percent of my creative outlet in the world, and it’s also like an extended family. Amy and I have been playing music together for 20 years — we’ve known each other forever. It’s a very interesting, functional social realm. We all hang out. We play music, but we also talk about art and exchange books and cook together. It’s a way to produce material that’s creative and to comment on the world and see how other people react to it.”
The band members are currently writing the score to a World War II documentary, and they’ve begun to toss around ideas for future recordings, solidifying their status as one of the most sustainable bands in town.
“We’ll continue to produce more content and write new songs,” says Roderick. “I don’t know how often people buy CDs now, so that’s to be seen. But we do have some ideas for new recordings and we’ll continue playing — getting older and hopefully getting better.”